Thursday, November 16, 2006

Cooking: reality vs. June Cleaver

My friend Sarah asked for input regarding meals, eating together, and what I call the short order cook syndrome. It got me thinking -- and I wonder if I am completely weird here in my cooking habits. I generally make a menu every few weeks. Some weeks it is detailed, listing the main entree along with side dishes and accompaniments; others (most) it is a list of possible choices for a main course that I can put together without a trip to the grocery store to pick up that one missing ingredient. I purchase the items needed to make all of my entrees, a variety of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables, several bags-o-salad (avoiding the iceberg lettuce because it is nutritionally bankrupt), and I use my pantry to come up with additional parts of the meal (like rice, or potatoes, or sweet potatoes, bread or rolls, or whatever*).

I must say here that I have one child who prefers canned veggies, one who prefers them fresh and preferably raw or slightly steamed, and one who likes them frozen and steamed. The method varies from day to day so that I can be sure to have some vegetables going into each kid on a fairly regular basis. The rule in our house is you MUST taste the food -- it can stay on your plate after that one taste, but there are no alternatives offered, so if you don't eat the meal your next food is breakfast.

So here it is -- a list of our dinners from a week several weeks ago (because I currently have no menu and am flying blind from now until Thanksgiving because I am lazy.)

Sunday: Russian chicken in the crock pot, baked potatoes, French cut green beans, salad.
Monday: BLTs, oven baked happy face potatoes, fruit.
Tuesday: Chili in the crock pot, corn bread. (This is a day Garrett dreads, as he hates chili. However, you eat what is put in front of you at our house. He tends to eat the bare minimum of chili and load up on the corn bread.)
Wednesday: Soft tacos with all the trimmings, fruit, and a cookie.
Thursday: leftovers
Friday: (Rob's night to cook) Canned soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit.
Saturday: Teriyaki chicken stir fry & rice.

I guess I make most of my meals like my mom did -- she worked full time and I always remember having a hot, balanced, flavorful meal. (Even if the flavor was not my idea of good -- as in the case of chicken cacciatore, which I will not eat to this day.) I have this weird guilt thing because I am home all day and therefore must give my family a wonderful, home cooked meal. In no way do I expect anyone else to live up to my ridiculous standard for myself -- it's just one of my many bizarre quirks.

I might post more on this later ... my brain is fried right now and I am giving up. Add your input in the comments section -- I am interested to see how everyone deals with a daily chore that is so necessary and so draining of time and energy.

*We are midwesterners. Carbs are present at most meals. This is a hard habit to break. I do the best I can.


  1. Amen and pass the bread.

    I tell Michael all of the time--this isn't "Teresa Hut"--eat what I put in front of you, or you will not eat. I try and make things the kid likes but once in awhile I make mashed "taters" which he isn't a fan of. I am not a fan of chicken nuggets either, but I eat the damn things.

  2. Thanks for the compliment!! I don't think my meals were always flavorful, but I do agree that I did strive for nutritionally balanced meals. Now, I want to come to your house to eat - I am SO SICK of cooking and tired after working all day so meals are whatever I seem to be able to throw together. Your dad never complains (doesn't dare - his motto is never piss off the cook!) so he eats (like your kids) what's put in front of him. Time for him to cook but that seems to be a battle I am definitely not winning! You're a GREAT COOK and your family is lucky! Love, Mom

  3. Hmm didn't see those pig snout things on the menu... And don't apologize for the carbs...that's one of my favorite food groups!

  4. Susan1:23 PM

    We tend to try to make up the menus for a week or so ahead. I guess I don't do it because I'm creative and organized, it's really just more to save time. My day seems to go better when I know that I have a plan for dinner.

    I have started keeping a monthly listing of what we've eaten every night. I take a sheet of notebook paper (of which I seem to have a never ending supply thanks to finally going through all those old college notebooks I had) and write 1-31 (or 30 or 28 or 29) down the left margin and MTWRFSS next to the number. I check out the calendar and mark off the days we'll be away from home. Then I mark off nights when I know one parent will be gone. If I'm gone, I try to plan for leftovers or something low hassle for Dave to make, if Dave's gone we have pancakes (because he hates breakfast-for-dinner but the kids love it). I then note days when we'll be rushed at dinner time (Mass at 5:30? Pork roast in the crockpot!) so I only have to open a can or bag for sides and set the table. I'm keeping the lists so we can run back over them and say...Oh, that was good, haven't had it since July, let's make this! If it's a new recipe I try to record the cookbook and page it came from.

    I ask my kids to try everything too, but I will on very limited occasions concede the point and go special order if I'm wanting to make something I KNOW they won't eat at all. I try to make sure every meal has at least one thing they will eat. And I frequently ask them what they want for dinner, which comes back: tacos, burgers, pizza, spaghetti.

    I don't think being home all day translates into homemade meals with garnish. But I do think that many people poo-pooh "home-cooked" because it's "too much work". I think that's bull. Cooking is not rocket-science. There are plenty of easy to make, good tasting meals out there that won't cost you a fortune in time or money to prepare.

  5. Your menus sound great, Jennifer. I don't actually think you're weird at all. Our family can not eat together most nights because Nabil is not home. So it has kind of degenerated into my making something for Ziad and Maya, which has led to them eating together most of the time (the Victorian model for children's meals) while I tend to forage and Nabil takes most of his meals with him to work.

    And interestingly, my original post seems to have opened up into a lot of potential discussions: time management, eating habits, picky eaters, existential self-justification .... the time management and the self-justification were actually what I had in mind to begin with. But I think I am now going to move on to picky eaters.

    Thanks for opening this discussion up to your blog, too. You and your friends are so organized it's scary.

  6. I usually make a meal plan on Sunday night and shop on Monday/Tuesday. I try to have at least one meal already frozen (chili, spaghetti sauce) for a super easy meal one night. Friday is almost always a take-out night. Then usually one of the weekend nights. If I'm having a bad week we might sneak a third take-out night in there.

    I would say that I haven't established a rhythm yet. Every time I start to do so I get pg again. That means I'm out of commission for the first three months. Then the last few weeks. I don't usually put the babies down for about a year so then there's not a lot of fancy kitchen stuff until then.

    I'm done with babies now so I'm very interested in this topic. In getting nutritious meals made with the least effort.So far this week:

    Monday: Leftover pizza/veggies
    Tuesday: Take-out
    Wednesday: Spaghetti/veggies
    Thursday: Chicken and dumplings